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Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh kickstarts maker projects in local schools

Kidsburgh Staff
July17/ 2015

By Natalie Orenstein

On any given day, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP is a flurry of sewing, sawing and circuitry. But educators there say these experiences need not be relegated to a once- or twice-a-year visit to this special place.

The museum, which already has a robust outreach program, has just announced a new partnership to bring maker projects to 10 Pittsburgh schools through professional development and fundraising support.

Many formal learning institutions are eager to integrate making into their curriculum, but lack the necessary funding, space or professional development. The Kickstarting Making in Schools project aims to remedy this by helping schools develop, implement and fundraise for maker projects.

The online fundraising platform Kickstarter is serving as an educational partner on the project. Representatives from the company will train the participating educators on crowd-funding for maker projects. Museum staff will guide the schools in developing feasible projects and redesigning physical spaces on campus if necessary.

Project Manager Teresa DeFlitch says Kickstarting Making is an experiment in scaling the museum’s existing educational outreach programming. “The project is looking for a sustainable model in which we could work with different kinds of schools in the region to integrate making, but to do so in a way that would be financially sustainable,” she says.

The idea was to choose six schools to participate. But 24 applications later, the museum narrowed it down to 10.

In the application, candidate schools were asked to reflect on how they would integrate making into existing curricula, rather than to propose a specific project. Now, more concrete plans are beginning to take shape.

For example, several schools are developing math maker projects, trying to use making as an engagement tool during traditional math lessons. At Ligonier Valley High School, educators are considering how making fits in with the school’s entrepreneurship focus. And the Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh plan to weave maker projects into their particular fusion of traditional and religious education.

Next week, educators from the selected schools will convene for the first time at the museum, where they will learn about Kickstarter. All the money for the projects will come from Kickstarter campaigns, which will launch at the start of the academic year and close shortly after the Pittsburgh Maker Faire October 10-11. Any money raised that exceeds the maker project budgets will go to the schools.

Throughout the year the museum’s research division will conduct surveys on the projects’ challenges and successes in order to devise a national model that can help other informal learning institutions host similar projects in communities around the country. Conversations have already begun, DeFlitch says.

“We’re lucky here in the museum in that we can dedicate a significant amount of time to researching making as a learning practice,” she says. “Schools, obviously, do not necessarily have the time or resources to do that. While we’re doing that within the informal setting, we’re able to take what we learn here, and then through these dynamic partnerships with schools, learn how to localize it to the school settings themselves.”

DeFlitch says, in her experience, educators crave support for integrating making into established lessons and settings.

“Schools do want to transform the spaces and they do need the right equipment, but they need the professional development as well,” she says. “That’s the big thing. Not just the advice and the spaces, but the person-to-person relationships.”

This article originally appeared on Remake Learning, one of Kidsburgh’s community partners. Remake Learning reports on the people, organizations and ideas shaping the future of teaching and learning in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Featured photo by Ben Filio courtesy of RemakeLearning.org.

Kidsburgh Staff